October 30, 2014

Essex Selectmen Delay Public Hearing on Regional Health District

ESSEX— The board of selectmen has again delayed scheduling a public hearing on the option of joining the Connecticut River Area Regional Health District.

First Selectman Phil Miller said Thursday the board, which held a workshop on the health district Wednesday, has decided to discuss the issue further at its Dec. 1 meeting before setting the date for a public hearing on the option of joining the regional health district. Miller said the board wanted to review the estimated cost per year of one additional configuration of health services related personnel. This would involve having the town hire a full-time director of health, who would also be qualified as a sanitarian, with a part-time assistant.

During the workshop with Mary Jane Engle, director of the Connecticut River Area Regional Health District, the board received cost comparisons for five configurations of health services related personnel, and later dropped the two most costly options from consideration. Joining the regional health district that was established in July 2006 by the towns of Clinton, Deep River, and Old Saybrook, was the least costly option, with the district providing all health-related services, from septic system inspections to restaurant inspections and public health clinics, for $88,192 per fiscal year.

The town’s current configuration for health-related personnel, including a part-time health director, a full-time environmental analyst, with a contracted sanitarian and food inspector, is costing $113,198 in the current fiscal year. The option of having a contracted director of health, with a full-time sanitarian and full-time environmental analyst, would cost $167,209 per year.

Miller had appointed Engle as the town’s part-time health director on a month-to-month basis in October after Dr. William McCann, a local physician, resigned from the position. The selectmen later agreed to conduct a full review of health services options for the town, and hold another public hearing on the option of joining the regional health district.

Engle told the selectmen Wednesday the regional health district, which has its office in Old Saybrook, employs three sanitarians, and strives for a two-day response for most permit applications and services such as soils testing for residential septic systems. Engle is also a sanitarian, and held the job in Westbrook before the regional health district was established.

Essex selectmen held an initial public hearing on the regional health district in June 2006, before the district went in to operation, and later decided not to join the district based on a generally negative reaction at the public hearing. A second public hearing held last February drew a mixed response, with more expressions of support for joining the regional health district.

Miller said he anticipates the public hearing on the regional health district would be held in January, after the approaching Christmas holidays. The selectmen would then decide whether to bring the issue of joining the regional health district to a final vote at a town meeting.

Essex Selectmen Set September 20 Hearing and Vote on Anti-Blight Ordinance

ESSEX— After months of on and off discussion, the board of selectmen has scheduled a Sept. 20 public hearing and town meeting vote on a local anti-blight ordinance.

The public hearing convenes at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at town hall.  First Selectman Phil Miller said the current plan is to open the town meeting and vote on the ordinance immediately after the conclusion of the public hearing.
¬†Miller said the vote could be deferred to another date if comments at the public hearing indicate residents are not comfortable with any aspect of the proposed ordinance. “They could send us back to the drawing board and there would be no vote that night,” he said.

The board began discussing a possible anti-blight ordinance last winter after complaints from property owners about three houses that have remained standing for months after sustaining severe damage from fires.The proposed ordinance was drafted by town attorney David Royston after a review of anti-blight ordinances in other Connecticut municipalities.

The purpose of the proposed ordinance is to “prevent or eliminate blighted premises” in Essex. It defines a blighted structure as one the town building official determines poses “a serious threat to public health and safety,” and contains “violations of the Connecticut Public Health Code” as determined by the town’s health director. A blighted structure could also be “a fire hazard as determined by the fire marshall or documentsed by fire department records.” The ordinance would prohibit blighted structures as a “public nuisance.”

Formal complaints about a blighted structure must be presented in writing to the first selectman, building official, fire marshall, health director or zoning enforcement officer.

If there is a determination that blighted conditions exist at a structure, town officials would then issue a notice of violation to the property owner. The notice of violation would include a description of the violations, and a deadline of no more than 15 days after the notice of violation is issued for correction of the blighted conditions. The deadline for compliance could be extended for up to 60 days by the first selectman or his or her designee.

Property owners would have an opportunity to appeal a notice of violation to the board of selectmen. The board of selectmen is authorized “but under no circumstances is required” to take remedial action to correct a blighted structure, including initiation of legal proceedings in superior court to recover all costs incurred by the town, “including reasonable attorney’s fees,” to correct a blighted structure situation.

The ordinance provides for fines of $100 per day for violations, and authorizes the town to impose liens on properties to recover costs incurred in resolving a blighted structure violation.

During discussion of the proposed ordinance earlier this year. Royston had cautioned the selectmen that the town could be unable to recover all costs incurred in correcting a blighted structure situation if a property owner lacks the assets to cover the costs. The provision for leins on parcels could allow the town to recover expenses if and when the property is sold.